After a quiet spell, it seems there’s no stopping Belle and Sebastian. Last year’s excellent ‘A Bit Of Previous’ saw a return to pop directness, a record fuelled by zest and the band’s exquisite melodic touch. Quick-fire follow-up ‘Late Developers’ draws from the same well, and while it’s certainly pleasing doesn’t quite reach the heights of its forebear.
The album kick-starts with the punchy one-two of ‘Juliet Naked’ and ‘Give A Little Time’, both of which find Belle and Sebastian on firm ground: punchy Motown grooves, slick vocals, and wonderful lyricism. ‘Will I Tell You A Secret’ boasts an appropriately intimate vocal, with Stuart Murdoch at his most teasing.
The record’s moment of experimentation are worthy, but don’t quite hit home. ‘Do You Follow’ stumbles into a kind of 80s yacht rock feel, while ‘I Don’t Know What You See In Me’ swaps indie pop for trance phantasia. Both are intelligent avenues to follow, and you have to applaud the band’s desire to flip the script – but they don’t quite have the incisive edge so redolent on other aspects of the record.
The neat James Jamerson style bassline that permeates ‘When You’re Not With Me’ showcases the full-band aspect of their songwriting, with each element interlocking. ‘When The Cynics Stare Back From The Wall’ has a country edge, but the song also doubles as prime Belle and Sebastian. Indeed, they manage to fuel both poles – indie pop classicism, and whimsical eclecticism – on the choppy disco-fuelled title track, which closes the album.
In some ways, Belle and Sebastian have come to be under-rated, purely due to their relentless consistency. ‘Late Developers’ should be applauded on its own merits, the work of a group whose continued evolution is tied to an astute awareness of where their talents lie. ‘Late Developers’ is a fine piece of pop whimsy, delivered with self-deprecating panache.
Words: Robin Murray